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Capital Fringe Festival

Dance Performance Group in 'Platypus Dreams'
Choreography by Nancy Havlik

by Carmel Morgan

July 20, 2008 -- The Forum at the Harman Center for the Arts, Washington, DC

“Platypus Dreams” by Nancy Havlik’s Dance Performance Group gave DC’s Capital Fringe Festival goers a taste of contemporary dance and experimental music.  The company presented four imaginative works that adeptly investigated improvisation and the intersection between sound and motion.

“Fits & Starts – The Musical” brought comedy and quirkiness to the stage.  Three casually dressed dancers – Diana Circone, Ken Manheimer, and Adrian Moore – surveyed the musical, an American art form many people passionately love or hate.  The dancers entered the stage in darkness, walked around looking uncertain, and then, exchanging concerned glances, politely adjusted themselves in the space.  However, they soon became awkwardly close in their adjustments, bumping shoulders and buttocks.  Eventually came quiet falls to the floor and tangled legs. 

Not much about “Fits & Starts – The Musical” resembled an actual musical except the structure of the piece – acts ranging from an attention-grabbing opening to a confetti-laden climax.  Jason Tremblay’s musical accompaniment was the antithesis of what one would expect from a show-stopping musical.  Rather than easily hummed melodies, abstract keyboard-driven sounds pushed the piece along.  Incorporated text, recited or sung by the dancers, enlivened the work with aphorisms and witty observations about musicals abounding: “Above all in importance is the opening” and “the longer the final number, the louder the applause.”   

The trio in “Fits & Starts” moved freely and unselfconsciously.  In a very un-musical fashion, though, their movement did not particularly match their words or the music, creating an unusual tension.  One didn’t witness a musical but instead observed a pleasantly warped form of anti-musical.  It was difficult to discern whether the piece was more tribute or parody.

“Roma,” a travel-themed work danced by Circone and Moore, followed.  At the beginning, two dancers in down-to-earth dresses twisted their upper bodies from side to side.  Excerpts from “The Fall of Rome – A Traveller’s Guide” by Anne Carson provided audio background: “A journey begins with a voice calling out behind you.”  The text distracted somewhat from the dancing, but the words were so lovely that one hardly minded.  Splayed hands and bent arms encircled the dancers’ faces.  They bounced up and down on their toes, heels tottering in anticipation of a new sight.  The duet was simple and poetic.  The moments when the dancers linked up in unison were particularly satisfying.

The third work on the program was “Learning to Fly,” a musical work conceived and performed by Gary Rouzer and Tremblay.  It began with voices in various languages.  A figure in near-darkness turned the handle of a tiny music box and walked slowly around the perimeter of the stage.  The lighting design by Daniel Burkholder was especially effective here, evoking a feeling of delicateness and mystery.  Indeed, one could almost feel dreams take flight.  “Learning to Fly” included repetitive elements – a plaintive female voice, singing string instruments, a raspy rattle like TV static.  Despite the disparate elements, the piece felt whole.  Its quiet but attentive quality reeled one in.

Four dancers (Circone, Manheimer, Moore, and Shaun English) and two musicians (Rouzer and Tremblay) closed the program with “Platypus Dreams.”  . Improvisation informed both the music and the dance.   “Platypus Dreams” had a gentle, ponderous quality.  The performers appeared to be stuck in another world.  They remained distant even as they interacted, almost inadvertently rolling atop one another and touching the skin of another’s arm.  Textual excerpts, from Anne Caron and from Manheimer, were dispersed throughout the work. “Stories end. . . . You’d like to know a little bit more.”  Yes, all of it made you want to know more.  Was there meaning hidden in even the most everyday movements of the dancers?  In their seemingly random contacts?

Solos, duets, and trios arose unpredictably.  The audience received the gift of a myriad of shapes.  Bodies leaned forward with legs jutting behind.  A hand hugged an opposing shoulder, or rotated over an ear, or pointed toward the ceiling.  Dancers crawled backwards on their knees, remaining low to the ground, heads down, moving together in a line.  Jumps and runs erupted, occasionally feet slapped against the floor, but otherwise a slow rendezvous unfolded.  One left “Platypus Dreams” with a greater appreciation of the beauty of individuality, which was shown through the varying styles of the diverse performers.

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